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Yes We Can Keep Repeating the Buzz Phrase ‘Tea Party Downgrade’! | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Yes We Can Keep Repeating the Buzz Phrase ‘Tea Party Downgrade’!

For once, Democrats have come up with a killer buzz phrase: Tea Party downgrade. It’s the most dead-on, easy-to-understand handful of words since, well, Tea Party itself. And, especially in the lead-up to the debt “supercommittee,” Dems should use it as tirelessly as Republicans are still reciting We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.

It doesn’t matter how boring or robotic it becomes to repeat a particular phrase, or how much Fox News blames Democrats for blaming the Tea Party—this is Advertising 101: Repetition is how talking points get internalized and persuade, and it’s how death panel and government takeover of healthcare kicked liberal butt and influenced policy.

But unlike those GOP Big Lies, the Tea Party downgrade has the virtue of being true. The mainstream media are predictably blaming Standard & Poor’s US credit downgrade on both parties (a fiction Obama endorsed in his speech last week by faulting not Republicans, but “gridlock in Washington”). But S&P, self-serving though it is, deemed it a Tea Party downgrade in all but name. Its report refers to the “political brinksmanship of recent months,” complains that the debt deal “contains no measures to raise taxes” and despairs that the Bush tax cuts won’t expire next year “because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.”

Tea Party downgradecuts through even those niceties. And it cuts through the hilarious Republican lie that this is Obama’s downgrade because--my God, they’re bold--it happened on his watch! They never give up, not even when caught with their pants down, as Fox News’s Neil Cavuto was for saying, before  S&P’s move, “I would welcome a downgrade.” (See Media Matters’s “Fox News Gets Its Downgrade.”)

Tea Party downgrade cuts through all that because like Tea Party itself, it tells a story. If Tea Party evokes valiant revolutionaries overthrowing tyrants, Tea Party Downgrade evokes psychological tyrants overthrowing our nation’s stability. Like TP, TPD tells you who’s the villain. That is, the phrase could help do what Obama won’t: galvanize political energy by pointing fingers in no uncertain terms. Anger at Republicans and the tail that wags them is already out there—polls show favorable ratings for the GOP sinking and those for the Tea Party hitting an all-time low—but most Democrats, as usual, are failing to channel it.  

I first heard Tea Party downgrade from John Kerry on Sunday’s Meet the Press, and I thought he hadn’t sounded so persuasive in years. My fear is that he and other Dems will let the phrase—and the anger propelling it—drift away, whether because they have an aversion to name-calling or a dread of appearing in a Jon Stewart montage.

Obviously, phrases alone won’t save or destroy the union. But especially as we enter the supercommittee stage of the story, Tea Party downgrade is a bold talking point worth repeating. After all, by preemptively agreeing to cuts in Medicare, Democrats have already pulled their last best verbal punch: Medicare-killing Republicans.

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